Spanish Company to Build Private Tollroad

Lanes along Loop 820, Airport Freeway will be North Texas' first private tollroad

Drivers frustrated with gridlock along Loop 820 and the Airport Freeway will have a new option by 2015: Two new toll lanes in each direction.

Dubbed "The North Tarrant Express," it will be the first private toll road in North Texas.

Texas Transportation Commissioners on Thursday approved a plan by private investors, led by a company in Spain, to build the 13-mile project.  It will run from Interstate 35W to the Highway 121 split and double the current capacity.

"By reaching out to the private sector, we're able to bring these improvements to fruition years if not decades sooner," said Texas Department of Transportation spokesman Michael Peters.

The investors will pay for the construction and hire their own contractors and, in exchange, receive the tolls for the next 52 years.

The new highway will be owned and managed by the Texas Department of Transportation.

In another first, the tolls will vary depending on the time of day or, specifically, the amount of traffic.

The minimum toll for driving the entire 13-mile stretch will be $1.20. The maximum will be $6.50.  Large trucks will pay even more.

"I don't know where all our money goes for all the taxes we're paying," said Vic Dean, a field service representative who often drives along Loop 820. "Where's all that money going?"

State highway planners say the gas tax, the major source of funding new highways, does not provide enough money to build what is needed.

"By reaching out to the private sector, we can help bridge that funding gap and move these projects forward," Peters said.

Critics say taxpayers will lose money in the long run, while foreign companies make the profits.

Texas Rep. Lon Burnam, a Democrat from Fort Worth, said privatizing public projects is a mistake.

"In the end we have been very pennywise and pound foolish," Burnam said. "We need the extra lanes. The way they're going about it is the wrong way."

The $2 billion project is scheduled to begin in late 2010 and be finished by 2015.

Drivers would have the option of taking the current free lanes or pay the toll.

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